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The MODIS satellite image above, taken on March 5, shows sediment plumes moving into the Gulf of Mexico from the main branch of the Mississippi River as well as through the bayous in its delta region. It's easy to understand how our nation's longest river is often referred to as 'The Big Muddy'. From the end of the last ice age until the mid 1900's, the Mississippi River created more area each year, but the river has been confined in it's levees since a major flood in 1927. The benefits of controlling the Mississippi River extend throughout the watershed because such control reduces the cost of exporting grain from the midwest and importing petroleum from around the world. Such benefits have come at a tremendous ecological cost that are concentrated in coastal Louisiana. Wetland loss there averaged an acre every 20 minutes throughout the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. The most recent estimates are about an acre every 40 minutes. Before the mid 1900's, natural wetland loss processes were slower than natural wetland building processes, but human activities have accelerated wetland loss processes and virtually eliminated wetland creation processes.
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